In a recent HBR (Harvard Business Review) debate around the definition of leadership, the range of responses were vast. Indeed, there were completely opposite views on the subject. One of these opposite views being, on the one hand leadership being the ability to persuade people to follow their vision, to definitions about enabling others to develop and lead the vision. How confusing. How would a leader know what to do?
There’s lots of evidence that Leadership has a significant role in accelerating change. Successful examples fit with one or other of the definitions, supporting the conflicting perspectives in the HBR debate. Looking deeper into this material, it seems to me that the successful examples from health and social care fall into the, ‘enabling others’ camp. Specifically, the significant changes in Canterbury, New Zealand and at Virginia Mason in the US. Could it be that the complexity in our environment means that leadership needs to be different to aid acceleration and successful change.
A recent King’s Fund publication draws on academic literature and practice to outline the need for a shift to collaborative leadership within health and social care, going on to highlight that the best health systems in the world make strong use of improvement methodologies that empower all staff to initiate and drive change.
Further emphasizing the empowerment theme, a couple of weeks ago, I found this article by Gary Hamel. It highlights the shift required by organisation executives, as follows: ‘The challenge lies in shifting the role of the executive from change agent in chief to change enabler in chief. This means devoting leadership attention to the creation of an environment where deep, proactive change can happen anywhere—and at any time—and inspiring the entire organization to swarm the most pressing issues.’.
It seems therefore that evidence and current thinking in the health and social care sector points to a valid definition of leadership being, ‘enabling greatness in others’. I suspect that many of us have been conditioned through our career into the opposite definition, as this has been the core approach within most business schools and health and social care organisations. I know I will find it hard, as all my training has been to analyse, interfere, provide solutions and seek to apply my hard fought expertise and experience. However, I know intuitively, that to accelerate change in health and social care, I need to focus on ensuring that leadership empowers and steers, rather than creating a vision and persuading.